Another Bizarre Bear Meeting in Mammoth Lakes

Bear negotiations between the Town of Mammoth Lakes and Bear With Us/Steve Searles are no less contentious today than they were a year ago, and discussions became heated once again at the Dec. 17 Town Council meeting. Try as she might, Mayor Wendy Sugimura could not keep the conversation from turning into a he said, she said argument.skip_harvey.jpg

The beef was between the non-profit organization Bear With Us, which employs Steve Searles, and Councilman Skip Harvey for the most part, but tensions were also running deep over a recent article run in the Mammoth Times, which Bear With Us and Searles claimed to be full of untruths.

The issues between Harvey and the group kicked up when Harvey stated he had never directed either Joe Parrino, President of Bear with Us, or Marianne OConnor, the groups Treasurer, to hire a Wildlife Specialist. Harvey claimed he had merely supported the idea, but Parrino and OConnor strongly disagreed.

The agenda bill on the table was whether or not to pay an invoice that had been submitted to the Town by Bear With Us for $16,802.86. The invoice was submitted so that the organization would be able to pay Searles, as well as their payroll taxes and workers compensation. The amount is in addition to the $18,000 the Council has already approved and allotted to the organization. Harvey questioned whether Searles needed more compensation on top of what he may have been paid by Animal Planet, which came to town for several months during the summer to film a documentary on Searles.

If we are going to talk about money, we need all the numbers in the pot, Harvey said. The Town has been a partner with Searles throughout the Animal Planet filming. Harvey was referring to the fact that the Town had allowed Searles to carry firearms during the filming of the show even though he was not licensed to do so.

Searles, however, asked Harvey to stop spreading rumors.

It was never part of the puzzle to have a partnership over the Animal Planet show, Searles said. That was never part of the incentive to hire me back.

When it came time to vote the Council became extremely divided at the dais. Councilman John Eastman felt that Bear With Us had never been funded adequately, and therefore had been set up to fail. He was in favor of approving payment of the money, even though the Town was under no legal obligation to pay it.

We at least need to let them pay their payroll taxes and workers compensation, Eastman said. He made a motion to approve payment, but it received no second and died.

Mayor Sugimura then motioned to take no action. She believed that any organization is responsible for their own fiscal management, and given the situation the Town is in, we need to take care of our own organization at this time. Her motion also received no second and died.

The motion that finally squeaked by with a 3-2 vote was option number 4. This option will refer the payment request to staff, the Town Attorney and council members working on the future contract to review with Searles, with direction to take into consideration the amount of time worked, the types of worked performed, the amounts of compensation from all sources for the work performed, equitable rates of pay, and the financial limitations of the Town.

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